Teach Your Children Well

Teach Your Children Well

Jan 7, 2022 By Dov Kahane | Commentary | Bo

In Parashat Bo, we read about “Pesah Mitzrayim”—God’s instructions to the Israelites for the eve of their exodus—including slaughtering the lamb and placing its blood on the doorposts as a marker of divine protection. In Exodus 12:21–28, Moshe conveys these rites, including the need to explain them to children. Many of these passages are most familiar to us from the Passover Haggadah. What can we learn from the way they have been incorporated there?

Read More
Cover Crop for a Hardened Heart

Cover Crop for a Hardened Heart

Dec 31, 2021 By Dave Yedid | Commentary | Va'era

These two verses describe the impact of the final plague in the parashah, hail. They come in the short thaw between Pharoah softening his heart—for the first time this parashah—and hardening it again, where our parashah ends. Why does our Torah mention these four crops? What do they have to do with the plagues, or in the calculation of Pharaoh’s change of heart?

Read More
Who is “Us”?

Who is “Us”?

Dec 24, 2021 By Jessica Dell’Era | Commentary | Shemot

At first, Pharaoh feels sure he’s harming only them. These Hebrews that he’d inherited, who’d came with a story about some Joseph prince—but who cares about ancient history? In Pharaoh’s view, the Hebrews are merely a tool for building out new garrison towns. What is a Hebrew slave to mighty Pharaoh, a living god among his people?

Read More
Fear and Forgiveness

Fear and Forgiveness

Dec 17, 2021 By Sarah Wolf | Commentary | Vayehi

ef; it can also reopen old wounds among relatives. This is what happens at the end of Parashat Vayehi, which is also the end of the book of Genesis, after the patriarch Jacob dies. Following Jacob’s death, his sons fear that things are not fully resolved in their family, and they become worried that their brother Joseph is still angry at them for the ways they mistreated him.

Read More
Faith by Numbers

Faith by Numbers

Dec 10, 2021 By Joel Seltzer | Commentary | Vayiggash

Most often, when I describe my own faith in God, I liken it to a number line from middle school math class. On the left are the negative numbers, in the center is the lonely zero, and to its right are all the positive numbers, stretching toward infinity.

Read More
Joseph’s Brothers and the Naked Truth

Joseph’s Brothers and the Naked Truth

Dec 3, 2021 By Howard Markose | Commentary | Miketz

Parashat Miketz, Jacob sends Joseph’s brothers on a mission to procure rations for the family, which is facing starvation in Canaan. The ten sons of Jacob, however, could not have anticipated what was to transpire upon their arrival. An intense interrogation by Egypt’s viceroy is followed by three days in detention, the incarceration of Simon, and a demand to bring Benjamin, their youngest brother, to Egypt. The brothers find no relief from their ordeal, and this unrelenting strain manifests itself both in the way they respond to Joseph’s questioning, as well as how they retell the incident to their father, Jacob, upon their return to Canaan.

Read More
From Podcast to Parashah

From Podcast to Parashah

Nov 26, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Vayeshev

Many of us have become podcast connoisseurs during the pandemic. For me, the interview format has proven most appealing, and within that genre, The Axe Files stands out. Why? Like many interviewers, David Axelrod speaks to authors, politicians, thought leaders, and public figures. What sets his questioning apart is his ability to elicit the background story of his guests: Where were their grandparents from? Where did they grow up? What was their family life like? What challenges did they face in their early lives? And how did this impact the people they have become?

Read More
Facing Our Fears

Facing Our Fears

Nov 19, 2021 By Walter Herzberg | Commentary | Vayishlah

Soon after leaving Aram, the home of Laban his father-in-law, along with his wives, children, and possessions, Jacob instructed messengers to go to his brother Esau in Edom and say: “Thus says your servant Jacob: With Laban I have sojourned and I tarried till now. And I have gotten oxen and donkeys and sheep and male and female slaves, and I send ahead to tell my lord, to find favor in your eyes” (Gen. 32:5–6). Upon returning, the messengers relate that Esau himself is coming to meet Jacob and bringing four hundred men! 

Read More
The Give and Take of Biblical Vows

The Give and Take of Biblical Vows

Nov 12, 2021 By Eliezer B. Diamond | Commentary | Vayetzei

We live in a world of give and take. Transactions involving the exchange of money for goods and services, which the rabbis explicitly call משא ומתן, “taking and giving,” are central to economic life. Successful relationships, whether professional or personal, are the result of effectively balancing the pursuit of one’s own wants and needs with acknowledging and accommodating the needs and desires of others.

Read More
May We Be Known by the Work of Our Hands

May We Be Known by the Work of Our Hands

Nov 5, 2021 By Ariella Rosen | Commentary | Toledot

How does deception begin? In the telling of Jacob’s acquisition of nearly all of the first-born advantages granted his brother Esau, the moment is perhaps not what it seems.

Read More
What Was Isaac Doing in the Field?

What Was Isaac Doing in the Field?

Oct 29, 2021 By Jason Rogoff | Commentary | Hayyei Sarah

The patriarch Isaac is one of the most passive biblical characters. He speaks infrequently and seems to stand still while other people feverishly act around him. His presence in Parashat Hayyei Sarah is no exception. After surviving the ordeal of the Akedah, and experiencing the death of his mother, Isaac is nowhere to be found. Abraham buys the burial plot and only Abraham is mentioned as present at Sarah’s burial. Abraham then sends his servant Eliezer to find a wife for Isaac, but again we lack any information as to what Isaac is doing or how he is feeling after successive traumatic life events. Isaac only returns to the story when Eliezer returns with Rebekah and she first sees Isaac.

Read More
Lessons from Lot’s Daughters

Lessons from Lot’s Daughters

Oct 22, 2021 By Abby Eisenberg | Commentary | Vayera

Parashat Vayera is the fourth Torah portion after Simhat Torah, the celebration of our annual Torah reading cycle and the culmination of the fall holidays. As we begin the new year, we also begin anew our exploration of ancestral family dynamics. Arguably one of the most famous parent-child scenes in all of literature can be found in Vayera: that of Abraham bringing Isaac to offer him as sacrifice. The parashah also contains another version of child sacrifice when Lot, Abraham’s nephew, subjects his unnamed daughters to assault and danger. From the tragedy of Jephthah’s daughter to the boldness of the daughters of Zelofehad, relationships between fathers and daughters in Tanakh are both deeply troubling and inspiring. The story of Lot and his daughters is certainly the former, and, perhaps surprisingly, potentially the latter.

Read More
Was Avram a Second Language Learner?

Was Avram a Second Language Learner?

Oct 15, 2021 By Avi Garelick | Commentary | Lekh Lekha

At the conclusion of Chapter 11 of Sefer Bereishit, the peoples of the world are divided by Divine command into distinct groups with mutually incomprehensible languages. This tale of the Tower of Babel accounts for the fundamental question of why human beings can be so different from each other while coming from the same source. It also sets the stage for what follows: a freshly divided world, with the inability to communicate as a driving force of division.

Read More
Who Do You Think You Are?

Who Do You Think You Are?

Oct 8, 2021 By Kendell Pinkney | Commentary | Noah

When I received the results, I can’t say I was all that surprised:

67% Sub-Saharan African, 30% Northwest European, 2% Indigenous American, 1% unaccounted for.

I already knew that my ethnic heritage was decently mixed up. I had spent enough years peppering my grandmothers with the kinds of questions only a child feels comfortable pursuing: “Where was your mother from? Where was your father from? Belize?! Which city? Dangriga? Sounds weird. Never heard of it. Wait, grandma, your grandmother was a white woman from Louisiana?!”

Read More
Is the World a Mirror?

Is the World a Mirror?

Oct 1, 2021 By Dianne Cohler-Esses | Commentary | Bereishit

The God of the Torah is driven by loneliness, by a desire to be in relationship with humanity and to God’s chosen people, Israel. As Abraham Joshua Heschel says (quoted by Michael Lerner in his book Jewish Renewal), “God’s dream is not to be alone, but to have humankind as a partner in the drama of continuous creation” (vi). Out of a great loneliness God emerges from royal solitude to create a world and within it humanity as a partner for God.

Read More
What Exactly Is a Sukkah?

What Exactly Is a Sukkah?

Sep 24, 2021 By David Zev Moster | Commentary | Sukkot

Have you ever asked yourself what defines a sukkah? Not how to build one or what makes it kosher, but why have one in the first place? What is its purpose? Was the sukkah part of daily life in ancient Israel? Did it have a role outside the holiday that bears its name?

Read More
In God’s Image

In God’s Image

Sep 17, 2021 By Alisa Braun | Commentary | Ha'azinu | Sukkot

What does it mean to be created in God’s image? Or to act in a God-like way? As I reread Parashat Ha’azinu, I was struck by the ways Moses’s song poetically develops God’s care for the Israelites, and I discovered in the vivid and diverse metaphors the beginnings of an answer. From the opening lines, where God’s words are likened to varieties of rain, sustaining and giving life to all, to God as an eagle “who rouses his nestlings” and “bears them along his pinions” (Deut. 32:11), this God builds up, guides, teaches, and protects. God provides for the Israelites’ physical needs with gifts of abundance, nurturing the people with “honey from the crag” as a mother nurses her child (Deut. 32:13). The Israelites’ lack of gratitude inflames God’s anger, but God bestows mercy and forgiveness, despite there being no mention of teshuva (repentance). God gives.

Read More
Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Moses’s Journey, and Ours

Sep 9, 2021 By Shuly Rubin Schwartz | Commentary | Vayeilekh | Shabbat Shuvah

Whenever I read the opening verse of this week’s parashah, I recall the other parashah that opens with the same verb: לך־לך (“Go forth”). Told to go, Abram heeded God’s call, uprooting his life and journeying—both physically and emotionally—first to Haran and then to the land of Israel. And now, as we near the end of the Torah reading cycle, Parashat Vayeilekh begins by attributing that very same action of journeying to Moses, as he nears the end of his life. What can we learn from the parallel acts of journeying that these two great leaders of our people undertook?

Read More
Choosing to Choose

Choosing to Choose

Sep 3, 2021 By Jan Uhrbach | Commentary | Nitzavim | Rosh Hashanah

The rabbis taught that Rosh Hashanah commemorates the creation of the world, or by some accounts, the sixth day of creation, the day that humanity was created. Liturgically, the day is seen as more than just an anniversary. We pray “Hayom Harat Olam,” today the world is born, suggesting that the world, humanity, and each of us individually, are created “today,” every Rosh Hashanah.

Read More
Reliving Sinai Every Day

Reliving Sinai Every Day

Aug 27, 2021 By Alisa Tzipi Zilbershtein | Commentary | Ki Tavo

Parashat Ki Tavo opens with Moses addressing B’nei Yisrael: “The Lord your God commands you this day to observe these laws and rules; observe them faithfully with all your heart and soul. You have affirmed this day that the Lord is your God, that you will walk in His ways, that you will observe His laws and commandments and rules, and that you will obey Him” (Deut. 26:16–17). During my years at JTS, one of the themes that always captivated me was the mystical understanding of the concept of time in the Torah. That is why my attention was immediately drawn to this quote. The specific timeframe “this day” occurs twice here and is repeated multiple times in the parashah. What does “this day” mean? Or rather, when is “this day”?

Read More
Reset Search

SUBSCRIBE TO TORAH FROM JTS

Our regular commentaries and videos are a great way to stay intellectually and spiritually engaged with Jewish thought and wisdom.